We walked side by side in tune with each others step. I remember thinking that and even looking down to see his black loafers, shiny, next to mine and thinking we are large in stature and together we are giant.
“I think he’ll cave,” he said as he pushed the button.
I nodded. We waited only for about a minute in silence. He checked the email on his phone and I reached for my pocket to check mine when the doors opened. Looking for the little red and white envelope icon, listening to my colleague murmur through his emails, both looking for the same one, we didn’t even notice the doors shut. I could feel the sensation of the elevator moving slightly and felt no need to look up. Both Mike and I were engrossed now. Separately, we read the same words.
After great deliberation, it is with great pleasure that we extend our offer to Lithman, Lithman, & Keith exclusively. We are so happy to partner with your firm and we do believe we can resolve the greater issue of Cathman and his colleagues. We are committed to high standards of ethics, as is your firm, and we plan to…
It went on like that: sycophantic, obsequious for the sake of it. I felt no real connection to the author. I felt no real connection to this firm. Someone cleared their throat next to us. I looked up to first see the elevator had stopped between floors and then to see a woman, dripping, in the corner.
“We stopped,” she said.
She looked wan. She was wearing a black sequin cocktail dress, tight, that showed her legs and dark makeup that had been smudged around her eyes. Her bun was falling loose from its pins into a dripping wet ponytail. Before I could say anything else, Mike chimed in.
“It does this,” he said. “It just stops sometimes.”
It took him a second to look up and see her there, register the human next to him. He was still reading the letter, the great fawning our merger had caused and he was getting the prize for it. The woman leaned over him to press the “Emergency Stop” button.
“What are you doing?”Mike snapped.
“We need to get out,” she said.
This is the first time I saw Mike eye her. He even reached for her hand to stop her before thinking better of it and retracting. He eyed her legs, her sneakers–black nikes, and watched the tiny drip on the floor from the hem of her skirt. She wasn’t wearing a coat and wasn’t carrying anything. It was if she just jumped in a pool and jumped out. Only slightly peaked, she had a color to her, and her lips were painted red. I noticed her eyes first because they had giant black marks circling her brown but then her teeth as she bared them, ready for the possible affront my partner was going to give her before he took his hand away. Those teeth were big and pearl white. I only saw a sliver of them.
“This happens all the time,” he repeated calmly.
I cleared my throat, “We work here, in this building, and this elevator has been having some issues lately. It will start again. It’s happened four times this week.” I checked my watch, “A pain in the ass for sure but I give it only another two or three minutes.”
She did not show her teeth again. Instead, she leaned back against elevator wall and closed her eyes for a moment. Tensing her mouth, I could see the skin around the jawline move. She opened her eyes and peered at me and I looked away. My colleague stared, focused on her legs. She sort of rocked back and forth letting her tailbone hit the back wall while she stared straight at the big red “5” that didn’t blink or move; didn’t go down anymore. Moving her head to the right, she continued to rock back and forth and now looked at herself until she closed her eyes. I heard her inhale before I heard the long hum; the long vibration that she let roll from her closed mouth.
Mmmmm mmmmmm mmmmmmmm mmmmmmm mmmm.
It was long and melancholic and we both stopped. We both had our cell phones in our hand but made no move to call anyone or do anything but watch her and her slow drip from the hem of her skirt, from the bottom of the thin ponytail that stuck out of her bun. She was humming with her eyes closed.
Mmmmmm mmmmm mmmmmmm mmmmmm mmmmm.
With her eyes still closed, she said, “I get nervous when I’m stuck in small places or in places that I can’t get out of. When I was younger, we had to take this long bridge over the ocean to get to the other side of the bay and I used to be so scared that we would veer off and fall right into the ocean, so my mother invented a game.”
She looked at us with her head only. She turned her head to face us, “We called it The Crossing the Bridge game.”
Then she shifted the rest of her body so she was facing us, so we could see her from the front: her smeared mascara, her dark eyes, her slim figure and messy bangs. She looked up, whimsical, remembering the story. Her neck was lean. I couldn’t help but have a lascivious thought run through my mind; my tongue on her skin, my hand on her waist, our bodies pressed together. She made sudden eye contact with me then and I felt seen. I felt caught.
Shifting her gaze between myself and my friend, she said, “One person would start a story and we would continue in a circle until we crossed the other side. It kept both me and my brother distracted. My brother wasn’t scared but he would tease me mercilessly. It kept both of us busy.”
Crossing her hands across her groin, she said nothing else but sort of smirked. I couldn’t tell if she was waiting for one of us to dare her or proposition her.
“Do you want to play?” I asked timidly.
She smiled; a toothy smile, so I could see her teeth again. She was strange; didn’t seem that young, that thin or that tiny but yet bounced like a waif, moved like a twig in the wind. Ebullient and deceiving, that is how she presented.
“I’m game,” she said.
She looked up again, thinking, showing us her long neck. My partner watched the dance too. She rolled her head from side to side and we said nothing, though Mike wanted to. He always wanted to.
“Do you..” he began before she cut him off.
“I got it,” she reacted sharply.
She moved backwards to lean against the mirror and cross her arms.
“It always takes me a second to think of the story. It’s easier if I start though.”
“Of course,” Mike gestured apologetically and leaned forward.
She cocked her head to the side again to eye him and stuck her hand out in front of him, “No problem. I’ll begin.”
She was enrapturing in every movement. That’s what I remember
“It’s called The Woman Who Walked out of Walls.”
That night she sat down in front of her bed and waited. It was the third night she had done this. Because she had seen her once on accident, she had asked for her every night since.
It was Tuesday when it started. At about 3:30 am, the oven timer went off: vibrating and shrill like a screaming bell. Even on nights when she collapsed; when she was dead tired, emotionally spent, had worked all day at someone else’s house, she could not sleep through it. Obdurate and cozy and in the middle of a fantastic wet dream, it’s ring woke her. Had it not happened a few times already since she moved there, Catarina may have been scared but this was now the baseline constant. She was clumsy and her kitchen was small. Merely a stove and the sink and cabinets above that, she didn’t have any counter space and in her haste, she often threw pots on the back burner to dry. The brush of a pot handle would inevitably flip the switch. Old and mysterious and temperamental, the cycle took eight hours to complete but she never noticed. Even though it had happened twice already that week, she didn’t notice it was flipped until the shrieking began. She had once tried to wait and see if it would self-regulate and shut itself off. It didn’t. It screamed. It screamed louder as the seconds passed. She lasted five.
Tuesday was no different. The second it began, her body stirred. She was all instinct now. Throwing the blankets off, she leapt quickly to traverse the ten feet to her kitchen with barely a step and flipped the switch from right to left. Her eyes were only open about half a centimeter. As her fingers turned the switch to align perfectly with the big black “0,” Catarina’s eyes popped open. The shrieking stopped. She stood for a second before she stepped about an inch into the living room. She had seen the wall move. Just then, she saw the right wall, near the window, pulsing slightly.
Staring at the spot where she had just seen the movement, she waited. It was dancing; subtle but steady like a curtain billowing in a breeze. She was not mistaken though. It was moving. Watching the same spot, a flitter of gold began to roam towards her. Catarina froze. Along the wall slithered a constellation; a snake of tiny gold dots oscillated through the doorway quickly. She took a step back. She felt two hands behind her neck. Where there had just been no one, she felt two hands slide up her throat. Where there had just been nothing, she felt something covering her eyes like a blindfold.