Stepping into the elevator’s gilded geometry, I shifted my shopping bags to select the third floor.
But that was not an option. This one went to floors 11–15. The hotel had three banks of elevators—low-, medium-, and high-rise—and this car did not go to the low-rent district.
“Oops,” I said to the car’s sole passenger.
Lifting his head from the notebook in his hands, an older gentleman in a raw silk sport jacket and open-collared shirt returned my comment with an indifferent smile. Close-cropped white hair reflected the metallic glow of the elevator’s art deco theme, giving him a golden glow. Based on his name tag, he was a judge attending a conference in the same hotel where I was meeting a girlfriend for a weekend of shopping. We shared an elevator, not a common milieu.
“Wrong lift.” I shrugged and stepped back.
“Happens to us all at some time,” he said, and returned to his notebook.
Yeah, except it happens to me all the time. Getting to where you need to go can be confusing, I wanted to say, especially if you’re not paying attention. Especially if you’re me. Could be a metaphor for my life.
“Guilty as charged, your honor.”
He grinned. I hopped out the door I had just slipped into. The door closed and separated our worlds.
I trotted across the lobby to the open door of the elevator clearly marked 2–5, punched my floor button, and waited. The door whispered shut. Then nothing. I pressed the button again. This time a little harder. Still nothing.
Taking a deep breath to quell my impatience, I pressed DOOR OPEN. Nothing. 3. Nothing. 3-3-3-3-3. Nothing. DOOR OPEN. DOOR OPEN. DOOR OPEN. Nothing. Then a lurch. And a sigh of relief. Moving upward, I considered my agenda. Bathroom. Bathing suit. Pool … But before I could get to “lunch,” and the car could get to 2, it stopped.
I repeated my ritual. 3-3-3-3-3. DOOR OPEN. DOOR OPEN. DOOR OPEN. Nothing. I dropped my shopping bags. I could have taken the stairs. Should have taken the stairs. But weighted with laziness and arbitrary choices, I ended up here, studying the panel. Ah. Phone icon. PUSH TO CALL. I pushed.
“Can I help you?” A disembodied voice asked.
“Okay. Hold on.”
Hold on? What else could I do? While I waited, I dug through my purse for my phone. I needed to let Sheila know I was stuck in the elevator. No signal. After a few minutes, I tried PUSH TO CALL again.
“Can I help you?” A different disembodied voice asked.
“I’m stuck. This is the second time I called.”
“Okay. Hold on.”
“Wait! Don’t go. I need help.”
As I looked for a way out, I ran through the various scenarios that had trapped me in my own life. Prevented me from moving up. Wrong schools. Wrong jobs. Even the wrong husband. An ache stabbed my stomach. Or was that the elevator moving? No. An admission of guilt. That was my fault. I was the wrong wife.
Rather than embrace my role in that sham, I reverted to old behavior and looked for a way out.
I looked up. Maybe an escape hatch in the ceiling? All I saw was a fluorescent panel suspended by a couple of inches from the roof of the car. There was probably a door behind it, but how could I get to it? While I had too many packages to take the stairs, I had too few packages to use them as a ladder. Staring at the brass railing, I almost—almost—laughed at the image of climbing on to it—and then what? Grabbing hold of the light panel and what? Swinging from the light and then breaking it? And then be stuck in darkness?
No way. No way out. No exit.
Like the play by Jean-Paul Sartre.
I hit the PANIC BUTTON. Literally. The red bell. It clanged. Then stopped. I hit it again. And again. The din reverberated within my gilded jail cell, reinforcing my claustrophobia.
“Ma’am?” I jumped at the sound of another disembodied voice.
“Yes! Please. Help me. I’m stuck.”
“We’re trying to do that. Please stop hitting the alarm.”
“Okay. But please hurry. I need to go to the bathroom.”
Nothing. I looked at my phone. Still no signal. I noticed the time. I had been stuck in here for 5 minutes. It felt like 5 hours. Was this some kind of panic room? Was I supposed to puzzle my way out? Or was this a safe room protecting me from some kind of emergency. An earthquake? Terrorist attack? Fire?
Fire? I could die. I felt the oxygen being sucked out of my ornate dungeon.
3-3-3-3-3. DOOR OPEN. DOOR OPEN. DOOR OPEN. PANIC. PANIC. PANIC. PUSH TO CALL. PUSH TO CALL.
Another 5 minutes passed. I danced around my 7-foot cell. Now I really needed to use the bathroom.
Then the voice again.
“Ma’am, we have maintenance on site. Hold on.”
“I’m gonna die. Suffocate. Hurry. Please.”
Then another 5 minutes. And another.
Lurch. My stomach went up as the car went down. Stop. Panic. Lurch. Down. Lurch. Up. Lurch. Down. Down. Grinding to a stop. Silence. I tried DOOR OPEN. Nothing. A new panic. Bathroom.
Before I could push another button, the door opened. Ready to rush into the arms of a savior, I was greeted by no one. Not maintenance, firemen, terrorists, or even guests. Grabbing my bags, I jumped out.
Surrounded by closed doors, I contemplated my options. The elevator marked 6–10 opened. Maybe take that and walk down? No way. Where were the stairs?
Before I could figure that out, the door opposite me opened.
Out stepped the judge. He had changed his clothes. Looked more relaxed. Probably had used the bathroom. His caramel-colored eyes landed on me. This time, he smiled in recognition.
“Wrong lift?” he asked.
I shrugged. Getting where you need to go can be hard, I wanted to say. Then I spotted the stairwell. Bumping the door open with my hip, I managed a smile.
“Metaphor for my life. But now I take the stairs.”