Love In An Elevator (til death do us part) by S M Zand
They leave the party and enter the lift in an unspoken fluidity belying rational thought. A primitive understanding – dressed up as romance or stripped back to its animalistic base, depending on mood.
“What floor?” he says.
She wants him to kiss her again. To press close, hesitant lips connecting in warm suggestion. And he does. The lift judders into life and he leans in, staggering slightly so they lurch against the wall. But they’re no longer in the corner of a crowded room, constrained by public decency; they’re alone and heading towards an impartial bedroom. And they both know where the flirtation, the first cautious kiss, that last drink (and all those preceding it) are taking them.
He anticipates this, presses harder, almost gnawing her mouth, his breathing raw, one hand progressing quickly – too quickly – from her hair, to neck, to shoulder, slinking down her chest and stealing into the low front of her dress.
The lift groans and stops, leaving a numb silence through which their breathing rasps. Seconds tick before they acknowledge this lull, turning to look first at the door, then the control panel, as though an explanation might be visible. He removes the hand holding her breast, but keeps his body tight against hers, reaching sideways to press the number seven button.
“It’ll start in a minute.”
The irrational conviction of the drunk. He faces her again, looks down at the skewed neckline of her dress, returns his hand to its previous position, locking his eyes on hers through a floppy fringe. She touches this hair, strokes it backwards, burrows her fingers, pulling his head closer.
“It’s not going.” She speaks this into his mouth.
“Sod’s Law.” His palm rakes across her nipple, his tongue seeks hers.
There’s an urgency to their movements. At any moment one of them might come to their senses, stop this, straighten their clothes, give an embarrassed laugh and say something about how things can so easily get out of hand. Inspired by this fear he scrunches up the fabric of her dress, pushes a hand inside her pants, feels her wet, wanting; unzips himself, he’s hurrying, the absence of the lift’s hum adds a further desperation – they need to lose themselves, to escape the echo of this fumbling.
He stops thinking about the lift’s inertia and feels only the pleasure of her. She glances at the door, tries to maintain her balance, winces as he increases pace and the metal tip of one of her heels scrapes the floor. Her shoes are killing her. Her legs ache. She wants him to either finish or stop. She wants to undress, lie on a fresh cool bed, stretch out bare feet and get comfy.
So she breathes with more urgency, gives a little moan, tells him not to stop.
His head feels like it’s being compressed, his legs as though they might give way, but he can’t stop now, even if he wanted to. Her warmth, her excitement, the smell of her – it fills him. The roar in his skull is loud. Unbearably so. And the ground is actually moving – whether they’re travelling upwards or downwards is unclear, but he gives that final thrust without caring. She screams.
It should be over, bar the pounding of hearts, the slowing of breaths, but the noise goes on. It isn’t the lift that’s moving, it’s the building. A wrenching, twisting, collapsing sound, mixed and muffled by the steel walls around them. The hotel alarm jangles, the lights dim and flicker and there’s a constant wave of booming, crashing vibrations. She screams again.
“Jesus Christ.” He goes limp almost immediately, shrivelling back towards himself, but they hold their uncomfortable stance, clinging mutely amidst the metallic echoes.
“Do you think it’s a bomb?” she says. She’s whispering, she’s shaking.
“Could be.” His heart’s still racing. “Or an earthquake. They get them here.”
“Shit.” She wants to cry, but it doesn’t happen. She stands tense, waiting for the lift to drop.
They’re still holding each other. The alarm dies but the lights stay, dimmer than before but no longer flickering.
“Must have a backup generator.” He doesn’t know why he said it but she nods, as though it were profound, not taking her eyes off the display above the lift door, stuck at four.
“It’s stopped,” she says and her voice is too loud. She lowers it back to a whisper, “the crashing, it’s stopped.”
There’s almost silence. It seems like silence, for a second or two at least, but they strain and hear sounds again – further away, the same noises. Closer, sirens and what might be people screaming or shouting – they can’t quite make out which. But nothing sounds close enough to touch.
“Why can’t we hear anyone?” she asks eventually. “Outside, in the corridor?”
He moves to the door, presses his head against it, sees the control panel on the wall and reaches towards that instead. Pushes buttons – all of them – bashing them repeatedly when they fail to respond.
She watches. Pulls the front of her dress to where it should be, wriggles to adjust her knickers, uncomfortably damp as the wet of him escapes her. His flies are still open, the corner of his shirt sticks out. She looks away.
“Shit,” he scrapes back the floppy fringe, kicks the door.
She roots in her small bag, pulls out a phone and glances at the display. No signal. He sees this and takes out his too, walks around the lift holding it out at random angles and waiting for the bars to light up.
But they keep hold of the phones, occasionally checking, just in case. They try to dial out anyway. Just in case.
He paces the lift. She hasn’t yet moved from her original spot. Her shoes are still killing her but she doesn’t take them off.
The lift doesn’t drop. The sound of people in the corridor doesn’t come. The distant noise persists, but in retreat. Even the sirens move further away, even what they thought might be screams or shouts dissipate. All they hear distinctly is the shuffling of their own movement; the occasional groan and crash as something, somewhere, falls and breaks.
He leans against the opposite wall. Takes out a pack of cigarettes and taps his fingers against the cardboard, over and over in a nervy beat.
“Could do with a smoke,” he says, indicating the pack. He shrugs.
“Have one then.”
He nods to the wall behind her. A stern notice – faded behind Perspex and screwed tight to the metal. Someone has scratched “fuck off” in angular letters across the bottom.
He turns the box through the fingers of one hand, as though performing a card trick. When he grows bored of this he plays instead with his lighter; on, off, on, off. She folds her arms across her body, hugs herself tightly, digs her nails into her ribs.
“For God’s sake just have one,” she says. “It’s not as if they’re going to say anything.”
“Yeah, but it’ll get smoky,” he says, “in here.”
“Well I want one.” She holds out a hand. He extracts a cigarette, looks at her from under his fringe as he cups a palm to light it. He has the hair of a twelve year old.
“We can share,” he says, taking a drag, blowing it out and handing the cigarette across to her.
She smokes it all. He lights another for himself. The lift fills with a grey haze which travels up towards the ceiling, circles with no escape. They talk about what might have happened, outside, about who’s likely to come and rescue them. They bang on the door a few times. Try to prise it open. Every so often one tells the other to shush and they listen and agree or disagree on what the sound might have been.
She kicks off her shoes, sits down on the floor, tucking her dress in under her knees.
He watches her. She looks different, tired and tense. Her make-up has smudged round her eyes, her lipstick gone entirely. She’s hunched up like a little girl, hugging her knees and resting her chin on her arms. He goes over, sits next to her, stretching out his legs and crossing them. He checks his phone again. There’s one bar showing so he dials a number. Just in case. But the signal isn’t strong enough.
“You okay?” He says. She nods, looks at him then looks away again.
“Someone’ll come soon,” he says.
They hear a low, distant rumble, like thunder. He thinks it’s an aftershock and so it must have been an earthquake the first time. She thinks it’s more bombs. They argue persuasively about things neither really knows anything about. In the end she agrees an aftershock is probably more likely. Wars don’t start without some kind of warning.
“I’ve got a confession,” he says when the debate has run its course. He laughs quietly and uncrosses his legs, brings up one knee and rests an arm on it, dangling the useless phone from his hand.
“In the bar,” he says, “when you told me your name, it was a bit noisy…”
He gives another short laugh, looks at her and shrugs. “I didn’t…”
“Oh. It’s Jane.”
“Jane.” He nods, as though he knew really. “Sorry,” he says.
“It’s okay, you’re right, it was noisy.”
“Me Anthony,” he says, pointing to himself.
They sit in silence for a while, each thinking about the bar, the party: a time which now seems so long ago.
“Do you think they’re all dead?” She says this quietly.
He and his colleagues were due to give a presentation today, or tomorrow – for some reason he can’t remember which – and he pictures them broken and twisted, all arms, legs and dirty clothes, lying scattered in a huge crack in the floor. Or maybe under piles of hotel rubble. Or outside on the pavement, crushed by cars swerving to miss the opening earth.
He wonders how the lift survived, what’s holding them up, now.
He gets up, presses the buttons on the control panel again. Tries to force his fingers between the doors. She stands up too, moves across the lift for the first time since she entered, curls a hand into a fist and uses the side of this to hit each button in turn.
They retreat, sit down again.
“Nobody’s going to come,” she says. “They’re all dead.”
“Somebody will come,” he says.
When the silence gets too much, she suggests a game. They should play favourites, she tells him, it’s simple, each takes a turn to nominate a category and they both state their favourite within that choice. She’ll start. She picks films.
He favours old movies. This surprises her. He watches the funny ones, pre-talking pictures. That’s when cinema was at its best, he says. He doesn’t hesitate in naming his favourite. She’s never seen it, so he gives her the outline plot. He describes the best moments but it’s never as good when you hear it second-hand.
She can’t choose between two favourites and he teases her about this – how the game was her idea but she can’t even play it properly. She says she’ll have to have both because she really can’t choose. But he says no, she must select only one.
After a while she stops finding it amusing and says can they move onto another category – he can nominate this time, it’s his turn. But he insists she pick a film first.
“One favourite,” he says, “otherwise there’s no point playing.”
She chooses one of the two to shut him up and they move onto his choice – books.
They play for quite a while. The challenge becomes one of finding a subject on which they have any similarity. It’s not until they get onto food they discover common ground and it’s a relief to be able to stop.
They’re hungry. Thirsty. Tired. The silence of no game leaves space for fear.
“Nobody’s going to come,” she says.
“Somebody will come.”
Sounds are closer again. Creaking, grinding, banging, clunking, and an ongoing dull vibrating chug that permeates everything. They can sense movement outside, distant, something going on. But still they hear no immediate voices, nothing beyond the lift doors that can be identified as a person.
“We should shout,” she says.
He removes a shoe – it’s black and shiny. Too smooth, too delicate for a man. His socks are red and look wrong against his sharp suit. The shoes are probably expensive – leather soles and subtle stitching – but the socks look cheap. He hammers against the door and shouts. She joins in but her voice isn’t loud enough to rise above the sound of heel beating against metal. She bangs her hands on the wall but, again, the noise is ineffective.
“Stop, stop,” he says, tilting his head to listen.
They stand quiet, he holding his shoe, the red sock leering out from his trouser leg.
“That noise,” he says, “it’s a helicopter.”
She laughs. A nervous sound. “Not much use to us, is it? A helicopter.”
“Might be.” He looks up at the ceiling, points towards one of the panels. “Look, see that? Slightly different colour, it’s a hatch. Fuck. Why didn’t I think of this before?”
He’s energized. Reaches up with the shiny shoe, pokes at the panel but it’s too high to push with any force. He paces round like an animal, not taking his eyes off the hatch – as though if he did it might disappear, become just another part of the ceiling.
“Let me lift you up,” he says, waving her over.
He grabs and holds – one arm round her waist, one round her thighs. She puts her hands on his shoulders. She’s tight against him and it reminds her of before. Hours before. But they’re sober now and tired, hungry. More than anything they’re thirsty. It’s hot and the air is sour.
“Don’t squeeze so much,” she says.
“No, stop, you’re squeezing. Put me down. Put me down again.”
He lowers her to the floor, removes his jacket, shaking his head as he watches her retreat to the far wall.
“What?” he says, arms outstretched, eyes angry. “What?”
She doesn’t answer. Reaches into her bag and explores the contents. She finds the crushed remains of a pack of chewing gum. There’s one piece left and she unwraps the silver paper, examines the stick of gum. It’s a bit stale but she breaks it, offers one half to him, puts the other in her mouth.
They chew for a few minutes, without speaking. He glances up at the hatch again.
“You can’t lift me,” he says, “so it’s the only way. Let’s have another go. I’ll not squeeze, I’ll do it differently.” He links his hands together, makes a stirrup. “Like this, look. You’ll just step up on this.”
“No. I can’t.”
He picks up the loose shoe, hurls it up against the hatch. It drops. He does this a few times. Eventually he throws it hard against the lift door instead and is rewarded with a satisfying resonance. He tries to reach the hatch with his hand – jumps up a few times, his fingers skim the ceiling gently. He hits the wall with an open palm.
“For fuck’s sake,” he says, “You’ve no choice. You want to rot in here?”
“Who made you the boss?”
If he tries to lift her again her bladder will burst. Her head’s thumping and the chewing gum has made her hungrier. She didn’t eat much of the dinner last night. She doesn’t like lamb and, in any case, she was chatting to her friends.
Her friends. Their carefully chosen outfits, the long session in the hotel’s beauty parlour yesterday afternoon, the expectation of the evening ahead.
“I need the loo,” she says, quietly, eventually. “I mean really need it.”
“Yeah, same here.”
He empties the pockets of his jacket, puts it on the floor in one of the corners farthest from the door but not the one below the hatch. He says it’s the most useless corner, they’ll do it there. He tells her to pee on the jacket, it’ll stop it running – keep it contained in one spot. She tells him she can’t. Not in front of him.
“Have you forgotten what we did?” he says.
“That’s different.” But she blushes anyway.
“Look,” he says, “I’ll stand near the door, I won’t watch. You go first. I’ll cover my ears. I’ll sing or something.”
They light cigarettes. Neither says why but they both know it’s to mask the smell. He stands near the door, as he said, covers his ears and sings We Gotta Get Out of This Place. She only half appreciates the humour. He’s got a good voice, even though he’s singing it too loudly.
She finishes, straightens her clothes and taps him on the shoulder.
“Okay, what you going to sing?”
“I can’t. I’m terrible. I’ll just block my ears tightly.”
“It’s okay, I’m joking, I’m not that fussed, it’s only a piss.”
They’re like dogs, mating and urinating in public. Maybe if they’re here long enough the first one to die will be eaten by the other. After he’s done they stand near the door and finish the cigarettes – they don’t look at the jacket, crumpled and wet in the far corner – then he lifts her and she pushes hard against the hatch.
“It won’t move. It must be fastened on the other side.”
She doesn’t like him holding her up, his face too close, too near the base smell of her. She’s filthy, the room’s smoky, hot, the air is stale, the space is shrunken. When he puts her down they move back to the door.
Each hour looks the same. Each hour is unidentifiable in itself, cannot be measured beyond what the display on her mobile tells them. The battery on his phone has died. They think the ceiling lights might have dimmed too and wonder how long the generator will last.
They no longer feel the silent gaps with resentment, awkwardness or dread. Sometimes it seems they haven’t spoken for hours and the sound of a voice jars, is foreign and contrived. Other times it’s as though only a second or two has passed since something else was said, though each knows it was probably longer. They’ve stopped feeling obliged to respond. Conversation no longer seems to have to be a two-way process.
There’s hardly any air. They breathe in steady, shallow rhythms, occasionally taking in a larger gulp, shifting position, slumping back lethargically when they see there’s no point.
“Need to force doors.”
He’s tired of being strong. He wishes she’d have an idea. He wants someone to tell him what to do. Jesus, this is no way to exit the world.
“Need try again.”
She wants to sleep. Properly. She floats in a half-dream in the silences but it’s not enough and he keeps saying the same things – we need to – and they aren’t enough either. All his suggestions have been tried. What else can they do?
“Nobody come not now.”
“Sometimes people days…” but he forgets what he was going to say.
She wakes from a dream where she was outside, somewhere hot and pretty and she’d been for a swim in the sea. She dreamed she was drinking the water – swimming and drinking and it tasted divine and not at all salty. Her mouth, on waking, feels congested. Stuck fast. Her tongue’s too big and the memory of tasting water evaporates. She crawls across to the point where the lift doors meet, dragging one of her heeled shoes with her.
She doesn’t even recognise the sound of herself, but it seems unimportant anyway. The fine heel pokes into the tiny gap more effectively than a finger. She rocks it slowly back and forth and he sees what she’s doing, reaches for the other shoe and joins her.
They pick away at their chosen spot, working hunched and tight against each other like mute primitives, all raw breath and biological drive.
And then there’s a gap. A small but definite gap. The two heels sink in and she follows them with a manicured finger, scrabbling carelessly like an excited kid.
“In, in, in.”
The doors work against her fingers, trying to resist, but she keeps them there, pushing harder, scraping skin and breaking nails. He reaches for his defunct phone and forces it into the space next to her hands, the heels, his fingers.
“Yeah, that’s it, that’s it.”
The rush of air is delicious – damp and gritty but solid, almost tangible – and they press their faces to the gap, mouths open and eat as much as they can.
They don’t move their hands, not even momentarily. Their fingers ache and arms tremble, but they pull and pull until the doors open wider, until they sense that’s it, they’re open, they won’t close again. Even still he sticks a shoe into the space, just in case. Even still they hold on with one hand each, just in case.
But they’re looking at a brick wall. A solid, strong, impenetrable brick wall.
They touch it. Place palms flat on its cool surface, feel the roughness of mortar, the tangle of cobwebs and grime. They push it, as though it might be a portal and open on touch. They stroke it because they don’t know what else to do.